The Ultimate Guide to Improving Google Ads Quality Score

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Photo of Austin LeClear by Austin LeClear on June 21, 2021

Putting together high-performing ad campaigns are a little like trying to piece together a complex jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the end result will look like.

We know we want to drive specific actions like booked appointments, clicks to our site, or purchases, but trying to determine how to optimize every factor that can influence the performance of your Google Ads is tricky. You need to assess keywords, budget, copy, extensions, and more.

After putting all these pieces together, many advertisers focus on hard, quantitative data like conversion rate or CPA. There’s one almost-hidden metric, however, that can help you assess how all the different factors come together while directly impacting your ad’s visibility and costs.

That code-cracking metric is your Google Ads quality score. 

What is the Google Ads Quality Score? 

Google’s quality score is intended to be a rating of the experience users get with your ad and landing pages when searching for the keywords you’re targeting. It’s designed to tell you how relevant and useful the campaign is to those who are clicking.

Your quality score will be a number between one and ten; one is the lowest score, and ten will be the highest. It goes without saying, but you want to shoot for a ten, but anything eight or above is pretty stellar. 

Your quality score is impacted directly by three core factors. We’re going to break these down further on in this guide, but here’s the basics: 

  • Your expected CTR, which is how likely someone is to click on your ad based on the keyword
  • Your ad relevance, which details how relevant your ad is to the keyword 
  • The landing page experience, which must correspond with the ad 

Why You Need to Pay Attention to Your Google Ads Quality Score  

Your Google Ads quality score isn’t a caustic metric, but it is one that’s reflective of your ad potential. 

In other words, the score itself isn’t going to automatically impact your ads, but it reflects on other factors that can directly impact your ads in multiple ways.

We know that ads with high quality scores receive significant benefits like higher ad rankings, better deliverability, and lower ad costs. 

These benefits, when all combined, can be significant. The ability to have your ads appear higher in search more often and at a lower cost-per-click can dramatically affect the efficacy and cost of your campaigns. As visibility and cost improve, your ROI can skyrocket. 

There’s plenty of data to back this up. We know that ads with a quality score of 10 can receive up to a 50% discount on cost-per-actions, and that ads with a quality score of 1 can wind up being charged 400% more than the standard benchmark. You can see this reflected in the graph from WordStream below: 

graphic showing cost per conversion decreasing as Google quality score increases

Image source: WordStream 

Keep in mind that quality scores won’t be the only thing you need for high-performing ads; you’ll also need competitive bids, accurate keyword targeting, and strong copy. That being said, this is a metric that can impact ad performance and help you assess the standing of your campaigns. 

Google could have easily kept the quality score as a black box metric, or one that was totally hidden; instead, it’s available to review and contains actionable information, so it use it to the fullest. 

What Happens if I Have a Low Google Ads Quality Score? 

Just as a positive Google Ads quality score can lower CPCs and increase deliverability, low ads quality scores can do the opposite.

Low quality scores (anything below a five) are often caused by low projected CTR and a lack of relevant keywords. These are easy for Google to spot, and unfortunately the keyword relevance can be an easy mistake to make.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re selling beach towels. The towels are outstanding; they’re thin, fast-drying, sand-resistant, and easily fit into a beach bag. But if you’re targeting just “towel” as a keyword, users might see your ad when trying to find plush, fluffy bath sheets. 

ad showing search result

This would be one of those “close but no cigar” situations. The user may very well still be your target audience, but they’re looking for something specific right now… and that something is a fluffy, plush towel and not a sand-resistant, eco-friendly beach towel.

When this happens, you can find yourself in a downwards spiral, so you want to pay attention to that quality score upfront. 

Where to Find Your Google Ads Quality Score 

When you’re looking at your keywords report, you can add or remove columns of information as you see fit. To do this, click on this tab while reviewing your keywords report.

Google Ads quality score

This will open up the option for you to add more metrics to your dashboard. Find “Quality Score” and expand it; this allows you to add each of the three quality scores based on ad relevance, landing page experience, and expected CTR to the table to review. 

Google quality score in keywords report

It’s downright crucial to see the different quality scores for each of the above factors, because it allows you to more accurately troubleshoot a lower overall quality score. 

You don’t want to be wondering if keyword relevance or the landing page is the problem, because you could end up breaking the piece that’s already working. You can see what the problem is and start making adjustments from there. 

The 5 Ranking Factors that Impact Your Quality Score 

We know that there are three core components to your Google Ad quality scores, but these aren’t the only ranking factors that impact the final metric. 

In this section, we’re going to take a look at the 5 ranking factors that can have the biggest impact on your quality score and why they matter. 

1. Expected & Current CTR 

Your CTR is your click-through rate, which tells you how many users see your ad and then click out of the total number of views.

 It makes sense that this would impact quality score, because it tells Google how many users made a search, saw your ad, and then thought “that’s close let’s see what this is about.” It shows relevance and quality. 

Your current CTR is the rate of users who have clicked on your ad compared to impressions so far. Easy enough. You can easily find this when viewing any ad that’s run in your dashboard. 

Your expected CTR is a bit more tricky. It essentially tells you what Google thinks your CTR will be. 

They’ll look at how your keyword has performed in the past based on the position of your ad, and you’ll either be given a rating of “above average,” “average,” or “below average.” They may also look at your existing CTRs; if you have a strong history, it may work in your favor. 

Expected CTR in Google Ads dashboard for quality score

2. Your Display URL’s Past CTR 

We’ve discussed this above briefly. While Google focuses on a number of things when assessing your expected CTR, they do look at your display URL’s past CTR.

Have your campaigns to one display link historically had a good experience driving traffic and earning clicks? That’s a plus for your brand. 

You can see how different keywords have done sending traffic to your landing page historically by adding a few more columns to your keywords report. 

When you choose to “Modify Columns” from your keywords report, you’ll actually have the option to view both historic and current performance for Expected CTR, landing page experience, and ad relevance.

Adding Google Ads quality score to dashboard

 This can show how you’ve done overtime, and where Google thinks you’re going now. There can be a strong correlation so it’s important to keep an eye on this. 

3. Relevant Keywords Included in Your Ad Copy  

Want to know the easiest way to ensure that Google sees your ad as being relevant?

Use the keyword your targeting somewhere in the ad copy. 

I know. It seems simple, right? But a ton of brands try to fit so many different keywords into ad campaigns, use broad-match or keywords, or even forget to put the keyword into the ad that it can take a hit quickly.

Here’s an example. Both of the ads below showed up for the search “weight loss program.” 

Google Ad showing relevant results

Nutrisystem mentions “plans” but you don’t know if it’s a weight loss plan or just a subscription plan for their shakes. The second ad from Noom specifically uses the keyword “weight loss program” twice. 

4. Landing Page Quality 

What’s the current state of your landing page?

If you’re not sure (and maybe even if you are) ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the ad that sent users to this landing page align with what the landing page offers or delivers? 
  • Does the landing page follow all of Google’s guidelines (go ahead and give that list a second read through just to make sure)? 
  • Is the landing page easy to scan and accessible via screen readers?
  • Do all forms work and have a clear terms of service and privacy policy listed? 
  • How is the user experience? Does it load too slow, have annoying pop-ups, or have poor visual stability? 

All of these factors matter when it comes to your landing page part of the quality score puzzle. And even if you’re tempted to think “well I’ve got decent relevance and CTR, who cares about the landing page,” you shouldn’t. 

Remember that without a killer landing page, all those users you paid to get to click on your ad likely won’t make it any further than that. Whomp-whomp. 

5. Performance by Device Type 

You run a test, making sure that your ad flows right through to a landing page, which performs exceptionally well on your iOS laptop. Mission accomplished, right?

Not quite. Have you tested the full experience on Windows? Or on both iOS and Android mobile devices (both phones and tablets)? 

You need to make sure that every part of the ad experience works for every type of user and the device they’re accessing your ad and landing page with. Run extensive tests to make sure there are no issues, and don’t forget to test several-year-old devices, too. 

12 Tips to Improve Your Google Ads Quality Score for Search 

Alright. You’ve stuck with us so far, learning about what your Google Ads quality score is, where to access it, why it matters, and what factors influence it.

This is where we get to the “how” part of the article. 

We’re going to look at 12 specific strategies that you can use to improve your Google Ads quality score across the board and walk you through how to complete each one. 

1. Use Tight-Knit Keyword Groups 

One of the biggest mistakes many marketers make when they’re starting on Google Ads is to take the kitchen sink approach; throw everything and the kitchen sink into the ad when it comes to keywords and see what works.

While we’re big fans of testing and creative thinking here at GrowMyAds, this particular way of thinking often backfires very quickly when you want to improve your results and your quality score.

It’s best to create narrower, more segmented ad groups with a limited number of keywords. Think keywords that may be interchangeable, like synonyms. 

If you’re trying to sell treadmills, sets of weights, and incline benches to consumers, you might use a keyword group that contains keywords like “home gym equipment,” “home exercise equipment,” and “home workout equipment.” These can all be swapped out for another in the list (and in the ad copy), ensuring that the ad stays relevant. 

Google search for “home exercise equipment”

You would not include “home exercises” or “home exercising”  in that group, because even though it seems relevant, it really is for a different search intent; these are users who probably want to figure out how to do body-weight exercises, no equipment required.

You also want to be careful lumping relevant keywords into ads that don’t seem to be relevant upfront. 

If I’m selling kitchen appliances, I might target keywords for every appliance I sell: Mixers, blenders, stoves, microwaves, and dishwashers. 

But if a user Googles “mixer” and sees an ad that says “Appliances like stoves, microwaves, and dishwasher are on sale now!” you’re going to get an insanely low CTR… even though the ad was meant to appeal to those users for the products they were looking for. 

Tight keywords allow you to create hyper-relevant ad campaigns that prove to the user that if they click, they’ll find what they’re looking for. And remember that you can always create more ad groups as needed. 

2. Test Single Keyword Ad Groups 

Want to really narrow down those ad groups to make sure that your ad (and its copy) are relevant?

Test single keyword ad groups. These are exactly what they sound like; you create ad groups with only a single keyword in them. It doesn’t get any more minimalist than that.

Google Ads campaign creation tool showing a single keyword

If you want to increase account performance quickly, this is a good option. You can create hyper-relevant ads for each individual keyword, which can go a long way in increasing your ad relevance score and thus your quality score. 

Single keyword ad groups also have a tendency to perform fairly well, and are capable of producing high CTRs and conversion rates. One study even found that single keyword ad groups increased CTRs by around 28%, which is an insane jump and means that you could be strengthening two out of the three core factors that go into your quality score with this strategy. 

Single keyword ad groups, of course, are difficult to scale. You end up with an enormous number of ad groups and ad copy to create, monitor, and manage. If you find yourself overwhelmed managing a large list of single keyword ad groups, try using single keyword ad groups only for the following:

  • High-intent, high value keywords 
  • New keywords that you want to assess the value of 
  • Keywords that are highly specific and may not work well in terms of relevance in other ad groups 

3. Use Negative Keywords Abundantly 

No matter how big your keyword groups are and what strategies you’re using on Google’s search ads, we can practically guarantee that negative keywords are going to be your advertising BFF. 

Negative keywords allow you to tell Google what searches you do not want to appear in. It’s like a failsafe to prevent your ad from showing up in placements that aren’t relevant and that will never drive clicks. They’re always useful and recommended, but especially when you’re using broad match keywords.

Let’s take a look at another example. 

I search for “Spinning studio” and I see this ad:

Google ad showing results for “spinning studio”

The ad promises to “bring the studio home” by selling customers Spin bikes. They’re ready to ship, to connect to the “spinning experience” and to ride at home. It seems relevant… you see lots of “spinning” and “studio” and the idea is to have a home spinning studio.

But here’s the thing. This campaign is not what I’m searching for. Even if it seems close, and if it’s close enough for Google to trigger this ad in this placement. Because I don’t want to purchase a bike, I want to go into an actual studio gym and take spinning classes. 

This is where a negative keyword probably could have helped this campaign. It would have prevented them from showing up in a search that is extremely unlikely to convert. 

How to Use Negative Keywords

Negative keywords are easy to implement. Head to your Google Ads dashboard, find “Keywords” and then “Negative Keywords.”

Negative keywords in Google Ads

You can then select an ad group or an entire campaign to add the negative keywords to. This can increase relevance (and thus your CTR, and thus your quality score) very quickly. 

Adding negative keywords to Google Ads for quality score

You can revise your list of negative keywords at any point. If you notice that you’re popping up in irrelevant searches, go ahead and throw those keywords in the list, too.

4. Take Advantage of Dynamic Keyword Insertion 

Dynamic keyword insertion is something that some marketers and small businesses may not be familiar with, but it’s dead useful when you want to increase ad relevance and CTR. 

This strategy allows you to create an ad template that will plug the searched-for keyword into the ad copy, making the ad appear to be exactly what the user is looking for. And hopefully it is!

Let’s go back to our appliance sale example from a few sections earlier. Your copy template could read “High quality appliance sale, get your [keyword] for a low price today only.” 

If the user searches for the word mixer, then that would fill the keyword slot in the ad copy. If they search for “stove,” or “dishwasher,” or “microwave,” then the same thing would happen. As long as you’re targeting that keyword in your list, it will show up.

We do want to note that you need to be particularly careful with dynamic keyword insertion. Make sure that every single keyword in that ad group will fit into the slot well; run through and read each one to make sure it fits. 

This means checking the tense, too; “Get your dishwashers on sale now” is clunky because it was accidentally a plural keyword instead of singular. 

Adding dynamic keywords is as simple as typing {keyword} at the relevant place in your ad copy where you want the dynamic keywords to occur. Make sure that your capitalization is correct; you can see more here for different formatting options

Here’s an example from Google:

Sample of Google Ad could look like

5. Test Different Ad Extensions 

Ad extensions allow you to add relevant and actionable information or links to your ad. You can see three different ad extensions in the ad below: 

Google ad with different extensions highlighted

Extensions take up more real estate in the SERPs, and they give you much, much more text to explain why users should click. They’re easier to notice, and they give you more room to appeal to potential customers.

We know that ad extensions can increase CTR. It’s not unusual to see a 10-15% increase in CTR when implementing ad extensions, and since that’s a significant uptick, it’s good for your results and your quality score. 

There are plenty of different types of ad extensions to choose from. Some of the most popular allow you to add coupons to your ad, address or phone number information, or additional links with descriptions underneath. 

We’ve got a guide all about Google Ad extensions coming soon, so stay tuned! 

6. Include Enticing Offers In Your Copy  

Want to increase the chance that users click on your ad? Give them a reason to click yours first with enticing offers that they can’t beat.

You know that whole “make ‘em a deal they can’t refuse” bit? That comes into play here.

It’s hard to turn away “SAVE20,” after all. 

Google Ad showing a promotional code

While ultimately users will always click on the ad more relevant to them, they’re likely going to be open to several different options. And all else being equal, if one of those ads is offering a discount, a flash sale, a free lead magnet, a first free class, or something else that’s enticing, that could be enough to get them to convert.

You can add offers in your ad text, the copy headline, or even through a promotion extension. 

7. Double Check Your Landing Page 

Remember how we went through that list of whether or not your landing page was in good working order? 

It’s time to go ahead and do that again.

Really take a look at your landing page and go through each of these questions:

  • Is it clearly andi immediately relevant to the user who clicked on the ad that sent them there?
  • Does it load quickly with good visual stability? 
  • Is it mobile friendly?
  • Is it ADA accessible and screen-reader friendly? 
  • Does it match every ad that sent users to you (yep, asking it again because it matters)
  • Does it have all the information they need while abiding by Google’s guidelines? 

It’s so common for lower quality landing pages to derail both your quality score and your campaign. Ask for a third party opinion, and remember that you can always use a tool like Unbounce to split test your landing pages to see what works best. 

8. Split Test Your Copy 

Speaking of split testing, your landing page isn’t the only going you’re going to want to be A/B testing. 

You’re going to want to split test your ad copy, too. This includes the ad text, the headlines, the offers, and even the ad extensions and what they say. This is the only way to find what combinations mix and match well and what your particular audience is most responsive to. This can help both relevance and CTR. 

When it comes to split testing copy, we strong recommend writing out a list of different features and/or benefits of your brand, product, or service that you want to highlight. Make sure you’re choosing options that would appeal to different niches of your target audience. 

If, for example, I’m selling natural cleaners for environmentally-conscious consumers, my brand and product may have the following features and benefits: 

  • Rated safe by environmental and health organizations so you know you’re not putting anything bad back out into the world… or your home 
  • No ammonia so good for people who are allergic 
  • Plastic-free packaging for improved environmental impact
  • Fifteen years in business with over 2000 trusted reviews 

You can create ads that really jam-pack all of this in there. If you can, awesome; plenty of search ads take this approach. But you should also test copy that dives deeper into different benefits, especially based on the keywords.

So if a customer searches for “baby safe natural cleaners,” you might use this copy:

Protect your baby and pets with pediatrician-approved, all natural plant-based cleaners. 

No ammonia, fragrance free, over 1000 great reviews.” 

And if someone searches for “environmentally rated natural cleaners” you might go with:

Safe, plant-based natural cleaners that are rated safe and environmentally-friendly by 

the USEA, EWG, SBDA, and WDEI.  

Aside from the obviously fake names of environmental groups, these examples stand and align with using those tighter keyword groups or single keyword ad groups but you can use them just for standard split testing on a single ad group, too. The more relevant your ads are, the better. 

9. Watch Your Landing Page’s Bounce Rates 

Keep an eye on the bounce rates of your landing page. Google can track this, and it can impact how they view the landing page experience for users. Of course, as we know now, this may impact your quality score.

Google analytics dashboard showing bounce rate

The good news is that you can track your bounce rates, too. Google Analytics has bounce rates as a standard metric on their page reports, so you can see how long people are staying on your page, how many are clicking before they move on, and how many bounce right away. 

If you’re sure that your landing page is relevant to users but the bounce rate is still high, use these tips to improve the page experience:

  • Have lead forms readily visible and above the fold; make sure they’re accessible for users with disabilities by included alt text even on CTA buttons 
  • Consider placing short videos (not overly long aggressive sales videos that don’t let users skip ahead) above the fold next to the lead form to capture their interest 
  • Make sure that your page is loading quickly on mobile and desktop 

10. Gut Your Existing Ads  

Have you taken a close look at every single ad that you’re running? 

We know it’s a headache and a half, but it’s important to comb through your existing ads — every single one of them— to look if there’s any places where fat should be trimmed. 

You may find some ads with low quality scores and/or performance. Sometimes these will surprise you; they may have even been ads that were performing well initially. 

Find the ads with low quality scores, and either pause them, stop them, or revamp them all together. You can try to create a higher-performing version of the ad with updated copy, offers, or keywords if you think it could still work. 

There is one thing that we want to note here. If you have a campaign that’s bringing in high-value conversions at a cost that you’re happy with, you can leave the campaign alone even if the quality score is off. As long as your overall account is in great standing you should be fine, and you don’t want to abandon results. 

Now you can absolutely create additional versions of that ad to split test to see if that helps, but there’s no point in throwing the baby out with the bath water. 

Historical data can play a big part in quality score, so this is not a quick fix and past-performing campaigns won’t be taken out of consideration. That being said, it prevents you from continuing to run low performing campaigns that may only be hindering you.

11. Test Different Match Types 

You can try out different keyword match types in Google to see what work best in terms of bringing in the most relevant users without losing the “relevance” part of the equation.

There are three match types: 

  • Broad match. This lets Google get creative. Your keyword could be “ballet slippers” and they show your ad to users looking for “Ballet flats,” but it could also show up in “point shoes” (which is relevant).  It’s got the most expansive reach but it can be chaotic when it comes to relevance. 
  • Phrase match. These ads show in searches that include the meaning of your keyword. So you might get “girls ballet slippers” but you could also get “ballet slipper christmas ornament.”  
  • Exact match. These ads can be shown in searches that have the same meaning as your keyword. So you can literally show up in “ballet slippers” searches. 

Here’s a great visual breakdown from Google

Google’s keyword match types

Plenty of brands and marketers choose to stick to either exact match or phrase match to increase relevance and quality score. In some industries, however, you could do alright with broad match as long as you’ve got a solid list of negative keywords on your side. 

12. Add In Location Targeting  

Have you ever tested location-based keywords, like “Denver coffee shop” instead of just “coffee shop” in your ads?

If so, it’s unlikely you’d be showing up for searches over in Miami… but it is actually still technically possible without location targeting.

Location targeting with Google Ads

 Location targeting allows you to limit where your ads are being seen, so you can choose only to have them appear within the areas that you service or ship to.

If I’m calling an emergency plumber at 2AM that showed up first on Google Ads, I wouldn’t be thrilled, for example, to find out they’re across the country. 

If you want to increase your CTR, you can start with high-performing campaigns in places where you already sell a lot or have solid brand recognition. It’s a little like retargeting while still giving you the chance to reach plenty of new users. 

Why Isn’t My Quality Score Showing Up? 

Can’t find your Google Ads quality score? 

Don’t panic.

Before a semi-recent change in 2016, everyone’s campaigns would start with a quality score of 6 if there wasn’t enough data to actually provide a quality score. It’s like starting with a clean, mostly-neutral but slightly-positive slate.

Google recently changed that, however. Now, if there isn’t enough information for a quality score, you just won’t have one until enough information is accumulated.

This could be the case if:

  • You’re using a new keyword
  • The keywords you’re targeting have a low activity account
  • You have a brand new ad account 
  • You don’t have enough impressions on your ads or that keyword 

Ultimately, Google needs enough data to get things moving. 

If none of these descriptions fit the bill, scroll back up to earlier in this post to make sure that you’ve set up your reporting dashboard to show quality score information from the get-go. 

Final Thoughts 

Your Google Ads quality score is not the end-all be-all. It definitely is not the only metric that you need to be tracking; click-through rates, conversion rates, CPAs, and even your impression share can all matter more depending on what you’re trying to accomplish with your ads and the resources that you have to run them. 

Still, your quality score does matter, because it can directly impact each of the metrics above. And the reality is that when you focus on improving your quality score, you’re likely improving your ad in a number of different ways across the board. Better CTR, ad relevance, and landing page experiences, after all, are all positives and what you likely want as an end goal anyways.

So keep an eye on those quality scores, and use our strategies discussed in this guide to troubleshoot and improve your scores and your campaigns overall. 

Need help with cracking the code on quality score? We can help. Learn more about our data-focused Google Ads services.

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